TOM SULLIVAN OF UP WITH People stretched out the national anthem
to 1:53, a Super Bowl record. Game IX had produced the low elapsed
time, 52 seconds by the Mardi Gras Chorale, but that gets an asterisk
because they sang America the Beautiful. While I was timing Sullivan
a guy to my left, someone I'd never seen before, asked, ''Why do you
''I do it because I do it; that's why I do it,'' I said. I didn't
feel like answering questions at that moment. I was sitting out in
the Orange Bowl stands, in something they called the auxiliary press
box, and about half an hour before kickoff a messenger had come up
the aisle yelling, ''Telegram for Paul Zimmerman! Telegram for Paul
I'm of the old wives' school when it comes to telegrams: I believe
that the only reason to send one is a catastrophe. Please, God, I was
saying to myself as I opened the thing with trembling fingers. This
is what the telegram said:
DO NOT OVERLOOK THE STEELERS OFFENSIVE LINE OF KOLB DAVIS CLACK
MANSFIELD WEBSTER MULLINS AND GRAVELLE STOP THEY ARE THE GUYS WHO GET
THE JOB DONE
Thank you. Thank you, Lester Szabo, and thank you, Lord, for not
bringing me dreadful news on this chilly Florida afternoon. Then,
when I relaxed and was able to think clearly again, I decided that,
yes, Lester Szabo had a point there. The one neglected element of
those great Steeler teams was the offensive line. Everyone else got a
share of the publicity -- the Steel Curtain defense; running backs
Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier; quarterback Terry Bradshaw; and
receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. But those agile, mobile
fellows who executed coach Chuck Noll's trap-block running game to *
perfection were almost unknown. Only Mike Webster, who alternated at
center with Ray Mansfield -- Webster played the second and fourth
quarters, Mansfield the first and third -- eventually got some
acclaim, but that came later in his career. Jon Kolb was one of the
cleanest, most honest, straight-up tackles I've ever seen. To him,
holding was a sign of weakness. Defensive linemen respected him more
than any other tackle in the game. When I think of guys like the
Vikings' Ron Yary -- who has yet to figure out a way to block L.C.
Greenwood -- being mentioned for the Hall of Fame, I have to laugh.
He couldn't carry Kolb's shoes.
So, I decided I would find a reason to swing my Super Bowl piece
around to a discussion of the Steeler offensive line. That plan
lasted until the latter part of the first quarter, when Swann made
the second-greatest catch I've ever seen (the greatest was that
one-handed grab by another Steeler, Al Young, in the '72 AFC
Championship Game against Miami).
Everyone remembers Swann's second-quarter catch, when he pulled in
the ball while lying on the ground, and most fans recall his
64-yarder in the fourth quarter, which was the clinching touchdown in
the 21-17 Steeler win. But that first-quarter reception was the best
because it was clearly impossible. He was on a deep sideline pattern,
and his momentum was obviously carrying him out of bounds when he got
the ball, but somehow in midair he twisted his body, reversed his
flight and came down inbounds. I've never seen a catch like it. No
one else has, either.
The Steelers were a young team on the rise. They would win two
more Super Bowls, three and four years later, with much the same
cast, but I am convinced that those 1974 and '75 teams were the best
ever in pro football history.
I'm sorry I didn't write that at the time, but the postgame story
had to be all Lynn Swann and the remarkable day he had. Early in the
week we all were chasing after silly angles. Like: Was Bradshaw
bright enough to pick up the Dallas flex? Three Super Bowls later,
when the same teams would face each other again, this tack had grown
to: Is Bradshaw really dumb? People would quote such a noted
authority as Dallas linebacker Hollywood Henderson, who came up with
cruel but clever lines like ''((Bradshaw)) couldn't spell cat if you
spotted him the c and the a.''
Very unfortunate. Very unfair. Bradshaw was a guy with a goofy
sense of humor, someone who liked to put people on, but underneath he
was a deep and sensitive person. And man, could he pass when he got
back in the pocket. Bradshaw would shred present-day defenses.
Yes, this Steeler team is my choice for the best. Second-best?
Packers of 1961 and '62. Third-best? Bears of 1985. So many great
players on those Steeler teams. Jack Ham: the most athletic outside
linebacker ever to play the game. Greenwood and Joe Greene: They
rank with the Rams' Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen as the finest
defensive end and tackle on one side of the line. O.K., put
Baltimore's Gino Marchetti and Big Daddy Lipscomb in there too. Jack
Lambert: best range of any middle linebacker except Mike Singletary
of the Bears. Yep, they were truly super, those '74 and '75 Steelers.
I just wish I had written it then.